Oliver Sanchez is Miami's Best Kept Secret
By Brett Sokol
Oliver Sanchez with his Nunsmoke, 2009
If you’ve spent any time exploring Miami’s contemporary art scene over the past few years, then you’ve seen the handiwork of Oliver Sanchez. From exhibitions at the Miami Art Museum to the Rubell Family Collection, Sanchez’s craftsmanship has been on prominent display. Just don’t look for his name on any of the accompanying wall text.
One of the art world’s best-kept secrets, Sanchez has become South Florida’s go-to person for fabricating sculptures for Miami’s current crop of art stars—including Daniel Arsham, Bhakti Baxter and the team of Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt—as well as for acclaimed artists well beyond the Magic City, such as New York’s Peter Coffin, Poland’s Piotr Uklanski and the Scandinavian duo of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. They envision it, Sanchez builds it—whether it’s Arsham’s partially melted, shudder-inducing furniture or Elmgreen and Dragset’s tarred-andfeathered Rolls-Royce convertible.
So how does Sanchez feel about putting in all that time molding, carving and hammering, only to have another artist reap all the glory? “I’m an artist’s artist,” he explains with a good-natured shrug. “I don’t have any reservations about it. I facilitate and help other artists realize their dreams.” Flashing a playful grin, he adds, “Especially when they come to me with tricky stuff, stuff nobody else wants to touch.”
That willingness to experiment, to tackle an artist’s offbeat design even if the blueprints seem to challenge the laws of basic physics, is writ large throughout Sanchez’s Design District studio. Walking inside it is like entering a fun house upended by a tornado: A top-hatted mannequin torso competes for attention with a ceiling-suspended hobbyhorse, alien-like assemblages lurk underneath worktables piled high with colorful thrift-store finds, and the walls are plastered with inventive collages. Punctuating the visual chaos, a rooster struts across the floor, breaking the din of sawing with earsplitting cock-a-doodle-dos.
“He’s practicing for tomorrow morning, just another emerging artist,” Sanchez laughs as the rooster lets loose with a fresh volley of crows—a siren call for the afternoon’s visitors. Some mosey over for a cigarette break from a neighboring warren of studios, others are en route to the nearby Spinello Gallery, Locust Projects, Dimensions Variable or Bas Fisher Invitational exhibition spaces. In fact, with the front entryway of Sanchez’s studio transformed into his own Swampspace Gallery, this corner of Miami is beginning to rival Wynwood as a nexus of art action.
This Design District setting is both intimately familiar—Sanchez grew up in a home just 10 blocks from his studio’s front door—and altogether foreign. Arriving in Miami in 1967 as a nine-year-old Cuban exile, “I didn’t have exposure to anything remotely similar to Art Basel or the ‘refinement industry,’” Sanchez recalls. “No one took me to museums because there were no museums in Miami.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG MINASIAN (SANCHEZ, STUDIO); COURTESY OF OLIVER SANCHEZ (SCULPTURES, PHOTOS, STAGE SET)